Aspect 5(b): A Mission Driven by Biblical Theology (Christ, Spirit, Man)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

We believe theological and missiological method must be tethered to the doctrine of Christ. It is said that a Hindu once asked Dr. E. Stanley Jones, ‘What has Christianity to offer that our religion has not?’ He replied, ‘Jesus Christ.'” Indeed, Jesus Christ is central to Christian belief and practice, and he is the driving force in our missiology. He stands at the center of the universe, at the center of the Scriptures, and at the center of our missiology. It is part and parcel of the church’s mission to proclaim the Scriptures, which proclaim none other than Christ himself. Both the Old and New Testaments are Christocentric-Christ himself is the axis of the testaments, the linchpin of the canon. The purpose of the Scriptures is to present Christ (Luke 24:27). One implication of this doctrine is that our Bible teaching and preaching should be Christocentric. We should preach both the Old and New Testaments and should preach them both with Christ at the center. It is very possible to preach expository messages, verse by verse through the Bible, that are not, in any meaningful sense of the word, Christian. Instead of being distinctively Christian, our messages are often moralistic and legalistic, differing very little from the moral exhortations of a Jewish rabbi or Muslim mullah except that we attach an “appendix” about Christian salvation at the end of the message.[1]

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit also is not incidental to the church’s mission. In addition to the Spirit’s agency in teaching, convicting, illuminating, empowering, and restraining, the Spirit also gives gifts to each person (1 Cor 12:11) and enables believers to bear fruit (Gal 5:22-23). These gifts and fruit are most fully put on display in the harmony that is found among a community of believers. An implication of this truth is that church planting is often best done in teams, as the multiple members of a team use their spiritual gifts together, and bear fruit together one with another. The result is that those who are watching will see more clearly what Christ intends for his church. Another implication is that a new convert can immediately be considered a “new worker,” a part of the team, as he is surely already gifted by the Spirit and capable of bearing fruit. Immediately he can give testimony to Christ and edify fellow believers.

In the biblical doctrine of man, we learn that God created man in his image and likeness, so that man would worship and obey him. The creation narrative teaches us that Adam was in a rightly ordered relationship with God, with Eve, and with the rest of creation. At the Fall, however, Adam and Eve rebelled against their creator, setting themselves up as autonomous. In so doing, they became idolaters. We, Adam and Eve’s progeny, have rebelled against our creator, setting ourselves up as autonomous-we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, seeking goodness and happiness on our own, apart from him. Our relationship with others is broken-rather than loving our fellow man, we find our relationships marked by gossip, slander, abuse, rape, war, murder, and other symptoms of the Fall. Our relationship with the created order is broken-rather than unbroken harmony and interdependence, we experience pain, misery, and natural disaster. Our relationship with ourselves is broken-we are alienated even from ourselves as we use our capacities inappropriately (spiritual, moral, rational, relational, creative, etc.) to perpetuate our idolatry rather than to worship the living God. The effects of the Fall are profound and comprehensive, penetrating man at all levels of his being.

Upon recognition of the horror of the Fall and its effects upon man, we must plant churches that seek to glorify God and minister to man at all levels of his being. These churches will realize the deep and pervasive effects of the Fall on the human heart, and preach a deep and powerful gospel message that is the human heart’s only hope. They will use all of the God-given capacities they possess (moral, relational, rational, creative, etc.) to minister to fallen man. They will proclaim the gospel not only when the church is gathered (the church’s corporate worship) but when it is scattered (through vocation and through the various dimensions of human society and culture). They will seek to minister not only to the common man, but also to the educated, the affluent, and the powerful. And in doing these things, in proclaiming and modeling God’s gospel to His good world, they are glorifying him and enjoying him now and forever.

[1] This is Graeme Goldsworthy’s point in Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). Goldsworthy observes that many pastors and lay people find it difficult to preach meaningfully, and Christianly, from the Old Testament. He applies biblical theology to the task of preaching Christ-centered sermons. Other helpful texts for preaching the OT canon are Bryan Chappell, Christ-Centered Preaching (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) and Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Part 16: The Crisis in 21st Century Preaching: A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence is a series of articles by faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary that seeks to offer some definitions of what constitutes a GCR, why we believe the SBC is in need of such a movement, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life. The series will address biblical, theological, historical and practical issues related to a GCR with the hope that God will use our finite and flawed efforts for His glory and the good of the people called Southern Baptist.

A Mandate for Biblical Exposition, Part D

4. Pulpit proclamation must affirm that the historical-grammatical-theological interpretation will best discover both the truth of the text and the theology of the text.

The modern evangelical church faces a serious danger. It is the danger of being swallowed whole by shallow and sloppy theology. If we will teach our people solid biblical theology rooted in biblical exposition, extreme theological agendas from any direction will be easily recognized and quickly set aside.

It is our conviction that biblical theology is prior to systematic theology, but that biblical theology must always proceed to systematic theology. The hesitancy on the part of some students of the Bible to follow through on this latter point is unwise and unacceptable. Allowing the priority of biblical/exegetical theology will result in a more faithful and honest interpretation, but it will also demand more tension in one’s theological system.

Walter Kaiser reminds us that, “the discipline of Biblical theology must be a twin of exegesis. Exegetical theology will remain incomplete and virtually barren in its results, as far as the church is concerned, without a proper input of “informing theology” (Kaiser, Toward and Exegetical Theology, 139).

Doctrinal/theological preaching is noticeably absent in the modern pulpit. Theological and biblical illiteracy is the heavy price being paid. As the preacher exegetes both his text and audience, he should be sensitive to the theological truths contained in and supported by the text. He must endeavor to develop a strategy that will allow him to convey these truths in a clear, winsome and relevant manner. A faithful minister of the Word will bombard every text with a series of questions that many preachers of the Holy Scripture never ask, questions that will inspire and equip a congregation to become competent systematic theologians.

  1. What does this text say about the Bible (and the doctrine of Revelation)?
  2. What does this text say about God (also Creation, angelology)?
  3. What does this text say about humanity (and sin, our falleness)?
  4. What does this text say about Jesus Christ (His person and work)?
  5. What does this text say about the Holy Spirit?
  6. What does this text say about Salvation?
  7. What does this text say about the Church?
  8. What does this text say about Last Things?

Now, we need to be honest and forthright at this point. It is impossible to preach without preaching some type of theology or doctrine. However, an unhealthy allegiance to a particular tradition of theology may give you a nice, tight, clean theological system, but it will also lead you to squeeze and twist certain texts of Scripture in order to force them into your theological mold, grid or ghetto! We believe a better way is to let your exegesis drive your theology. Let your theological system be shaped by Scripture and not the reverse. You will most certainly have more tension, more mystery, but your will be more true to the text of Holy Scripture, and you will embrace and cultivate a more healthy and balanced theology.

In this context, we would encourage every preacher to always ask of every text three questions, and to ask them in this order, 1) What does this text say about God? 2) What does this text say about fallen humanity? 3) How does this text point to Christ and His person and work? This three-fold inquiry appropriates the insight of Bryan Chappell and his “Fallen Condition Focus” (FCF). It also will guide us in having a Theocentric/Christocentric homiletic and theology. It will make sure that the real hero of the Bible is always on display: the Lord Jesus Christ. It will serve as an effective vaccine to the psychological, therapeutic, feel-good or mystical/personalistic diseases that have infected the Church. It will keep Jesus preeminent and the gospel front and center.

Warren Wiersbe has sounded a much needed warning in this area,

I don’t think the average church member realizes the extent of the theological erosion that’s taken place on the American exegetical scene since World War II, but the changes I’ve witnesses in Christian broadcasting and publishing make it very real to me. Radio programs that once majored in practical Bible teaching are now given over to man-centered interviews (“talk” radio is a popular thing) and man-centered music that sounds so much like what the world presents, you wonder if your radio is tuned to a Christian station. In so much of today’s ministry “feeling good” has replaced being good, and ‘happiness’ has replaced holiness (Wiersbe, Be Myself, 301).

Donald Bloesch adds,

[T]he church that does not take theology seriously is unwittingly encouraging understandings of the faith that are warped or unbalanced (Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations: Death And Rebirth In An Age Of Upheaval, 107).

A steady diet of exegetical theology fleshed out in expository preaching is a certain cure for the spiritual anemia that afflicts too many of our churches.